Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Getty Images
There’s no real middle ground when taking a stance on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Upon its annual shortlist and official induction announcements, people tend to critique the supposed sanctity of its ever mutating nominee slate or — rightly so — lament its historic exclusion of women. Others just think it’s a cool and hip museum in Ohio with a lot of famous names tethered to it and move on with their lives. Regardless, there’s no doubt that the Hall has been a behemoth lurking over the genre since its inaugural ceremony in 1986, and at this point, following the organization and its various dramas and strategies almost doubles as a sport.
“I’m constantly mystified by the mediocre level of the selections that come out,” one Rock Hall voter recently told us. “I know about a third of the people that are on the nominating committee on some level or another. These aren’t stupid or ignorant people. They’re generally really sharp, involved, and passionate fans of music who know a lot. How you get from people like that to the all-over-the-place crud that typifies a lot of these ballot selections is weird and unfortunate.” After a beat, they added with a laugh, “There are too many dumb voters now.”
Ahead of the Hall’s Wednesday announcement revealing its 2022 class, Vulture spoke with two members of the Rock Hall voting body under the cloak of anonymity to dissect their extremely frank opinions when the ballots arrived — especially since they could select only five acts out of 17. Both voters are ingrained within the music industry; Voter 1 has been an active voter for “four to five years,” while Voter 2 hovers “around 20 years.” And both, as you’ll soon find out, have a hell of a lot to say about each nominee. So crank up the volume and take a seat.
Voter 1: I voted for her. I love Pat Benatar. She’s exactly who should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She’s a rock singer who writes and produces her own material. She’s fantastic. She and her husband, Neil Giraldo, are a creative force. She’s got a Greatest Hits CD that contains 20 solid tracks. I’m 100 percent behind Pat.
Voter 2: This is a textbook example of somebody who shouldn’t be on this ballot. She sold a lot of records, was on the radio, and you’ll still hear her at the laundromat. But who cares? If you removed Pat Benatar from the history of music, it would be just fine. Nothing would be different today. It’s a commendable impulse to try to be more inclusive, and that’s reflected in my ballot voting every year. But this is a ridiculous nomination. Her name shouldn’t have come out of the nominating committee. It blows my mind that somebody was willing to make a case for Pat Benatar and they couldn’t make a case for, let’s say, PJ Harvey or Miriam Makeba.
Voter 1: I definitely voted for Judas Priest. The thing is, the Hall really underrepresents metal. When the big acts come up for nomination, as a metal fan, I have to vote for them. Black Sabbath is in there, which is great, but other than that, metal has been very snubbed. It’s disturbing, considering how many records those bands sell. I’ll get conspiratorial and say it’s because the old crowd at Rolling Stone still dominates the Hall, and they always hated metal. Judas Priest needs to be in there as well as Motörhead and Iron Maiden. The titans of metal need to be represented.
Voter 2: I can see the logic of it. They don’t move me, and that’s okay. There are many times where I voted for acts that I personally don’t enjoy because it was so inarguable to me that they belong in the Hall of Fame. I’ve taken it as a badge of pride — I’ve voted for artists that mean nothing to me. I’m not at that level with Judas Priest. There’s a reasonable chance they’ll get it, and that’s fine. It won’t disturb me.
Voter 1: I considered voting for them, but I didn’t in the end. They’re a much better band than they’re given credit for being. With ’80s pop music, people get hung up on the front man, so they think of Simon Le Bon as personifying Duran Duran. That still happens in the modern era. I mean, can you name the other three dudes in Coldplay? No, you can’t. Duran Duran is the same deal. They have seriously long-term members. They’re a band. They write music together, and they play music that they like. They’re good at what they do. Those first couple of albums have really good songs. Duran Duran and Rio? Great records. They’re hit and miss after that.
Voter 2: As an old person in training, I’ve never liked them. They didn’t get good until “Ordinary World.” I understand they have a tremendous fan base. You can’t underestimate that. If there’s a genuine and passionate enthusiasm, whether I get it or not, I’m perfectly willing at times to take a backseat and say, Okay, fine, I don’t get it, and I don’t have to get it. Duran Duran just strikes me as a significant case of a band that’s there not because they were the best at what they did but because they were the most popular of what they did. I’d be more irritated if the Hall hadn’t managed to do the right thing and induct Roxy Music and Nile Rodgers; they were the two primary people they were swiping from during their initial career.
Voter 1: This one is tough because I don’t know that much about Kate Bush. I took one listen 30 years ago and thought, Nope, not for me. And that’s fine — there’s a whole world of stuff that’s not for me. Kate Bush is one of them. But without Kate Bush, there’s no Tori Amos, and without Tori Amos, there’s no Grimes or Joanna Newsom. There’s a lineage. She’s just not for me.
Voter 2: Kate Bush is exactly the sort of person who should’ve been in the Hall of Fame years ago. I’ve voted for her since the second time she’s been on the ballot, and I’ll vote for her until they put her in. I feel like this is going to be one of those things where it’s like Chic or the Stooges — showing up on a ballot for years and years because people don’t get it. If she had sold 10 million records in the United States as opposed to the rest of the world, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Voter 1: [Making gagging sound.] I’m not a fan. No. [Gags again.] The stuff that I’m closest to liking is his very early stuff. By the time of Midnight Vultures, I felt like he was doing this very creepy, almost blackface-y fake funk thing. Super-irony-poisoned and gross. I don’t understand why Beck is regarded as a creative auteur.
Voter 2: Great guy. He’s made really good records, but I struggle with this one. If we were voting for seven or eight people instead of five, I might’ve checked the box. I suspect his moment will come. It didn’t feel to me that there was any reason I should vote for him now.
Voter 1: It’s too early for Rage Against the Machine. Their music holds up very well, but there are too many bands that are decades older than them that need to be inducted first. Jane’s Addiction isn’t in. Fishbone isn’t in. Get those guys in their first; then we talk about Rage Against the Machine. I think Tom Morello would agree with me.
Voter 2: Beyond the fact that I’m not sure it’s totally cool that Tom Morello is on the nominating committee, I’ve always found them to be artistically insubstantial. It feels a little weird for that reason. But these things are always fungible. Look, if the Roots were on the ballot, I’d vote for them, and Questlove is also on the committee. But Rage Against the Machine, meh.
Voter 1: I hate Eminem. I’ve always hated Eminem. I find everything about his art to be repelling, and I love hip-hop. It’s hard to describe without going back into the conspiracies. I feel like the rock press dove head over heels for him from the beginning. He’ll say it — he got a huge boost from being a white rapper and being “transgressive.” The way in which he was embraced by critics, put on the cover of Spin dressed as the guy from A Clockwork Orange, and all this other horseshit early on? It was repulsive to me. When you actually listen to his songs, there’s not all that much there. For every semi-dark lyric about killing his wife or his mother, there’s 15 songs that are a string of pop-culture bullshit and fart jokes. Fuck that guy.
Voter 2: It’s a good argument why 25 years is a good span of time before people become eligible. If Eminem had been eligible a decade ago, I’m sure I would’ve voted for him. But to me, his work is less substantial, less interesting, and has aged less well than it would have if we were having this conversation in 2012. There’s other people who I would rather see. The ballot always seems like there’s one designated hip-hip spot per year. In terms of what the Hall voters can wrap their brains around, I think there’s better places to put that vote this year.
Voter 1: I voted for Fela. Enthusiastically so. People are acting like Fela’s nomination is a big surprise, but, come on, there was a hit Broadway musical about him. People forget that shit. He’s already been mainstreamed. The music is unbelievable. It’s indescribably great. He’s a James Brown–level genius. Then there’s his political message and the importance of that — the oppression he fought against in Nigeria, to the point where the military blew his house up and killed his mom. The dude was for real. He absolutely deserves the induction.
Voter 2: Hugely important. People like to talk, “Why are they nominating people like Fela Kuti and Dolly Parton? That’s not rock and roll.” To which I would say, “Shut up. You’re an idiot.” One of the great things about rock and roll as a construct is that it’s a really porous art form that absorbs the best of a lot of other art forms. The remit of rock and roll is constantly expanding and evolving. The influence that Fela’s work has had in the genre is something that wouldn’t have been particularly well understood in, say, 1975. Maybe around 1982, because at that point, David Byrne and Brian Eno, among others, had discovered those rhythms. Fela’s work seems canonical to me. I’m very glad to see him in the mix.
Voter 1: Carly Simon is a very good lyricist, but there are few people in the world less rock and roll than her. I could never vote for her. Not a chance.
Voter 2: I don’t know why she’s nominated. She’s a lovely person. I have no animus against her work. None of it bothers me, but none of it moves me. She’s not Carole King. She’s not Patti Smith. Yeah, I don’t understand it.
Voter 1: I voted for Devo. I love Devo. Their first three or four albums are amazing. Not just in terms of the quality of what they were doing, but the context in which they were doing it. People tend to think of them as a silly novelty group. They had “Whip It” as their big hit. But no, those songs are dark as fuck. You listen to their first album and it’s a slash-and-burn critique of American society and culture. I’m there for it 100 percent. They wear funny hats, but they’re not fucking around.
Voter 2: I like Devo. I don’t think their recent work holds up, but I don’t think it matters. They are fantastic and top-of-the-heap conceptualists. A lot of their approaches and ideas are strong and clear at this point. It’s easy to dismiss them as novelties. I think there’s a deeper core of seriousness in their work than is often acknowledged. There’s a musical sophistication that’s worth praising. Have Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale written a great song since 1982? No. But does it make any difference? Also no.
Voter 1: She’s very good at what she does, but she’s not a rock-and-roll musician. Look, country music has its own value. This is the thing that bugs me: The Country Music Hall of Fame knows who they’re letting in and not. They don’t pander. Nelly isn’t going to get into the Country Music Hall of Fame just because he did a song with Tim McGraw. The Rock Hall should be about rock and roll. To get super-nerdy about it, it’s small-group music — guitar-based, drums, keyboards, and sometimes horns. That’s what it is. The problem is, the Hall has a more “marketing meeting” definition of rock and roll these days. Let’s say in the car-advertising sense. But back to Dolly, it’s part of her overall canonization. It’s fine, but it’s not culturally accurate.
Voter 2: I would have no problem having her in the Hall of Fame. And because my respect for her is infinite, if she didn’t want to be in, then I wasn’t going to force her in and vote for her against her will.
Voter 1: I didn’t vote for her. Dionne Warwick didn’t even write her own lyrics. I haven’t paid too much attention to her career. She’s a sophisticated pop singer. She has a great voice, and she’s a great performer. But again, there’s nothing rock and roll about Dionne Warwick.
Voter 2: Really important. Her string of ’60s hit singles are great. It’s often worth remembering that a lot of the best early rock and pop performers were not singer-songwriters and didn’t write their own material. They weren’t Carly Simon, for example. But Dionne’s work is infinitely more important than Carly’s work because she was the master interpreter of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David catalog. A lot of her vocal phrasing and what she brought to those string of records was a sophistication that was unusual during that period of time, which has been massively important for people going forward. I’ve thought to myself several times, Shouldn’t she have been inducted 25 or 30 years ago? That’s a grievance for me.
Voter 1: They’re very good at what they do. They’re underrated in the sense that they had a couple of big hits, but their absolute best album is probably the one that nobody listens to, Savage. I didn’t vote for them, but I thought about it.
Voter 2: Yeah, whatever. I think that’s all I can really say about Eurythmics. They had a couple of strong singles. I can’t say they wrote a great song after 1984. I don’t know why they’re nominated other than that they sold a lot of records. Their work is flabby. On their best day, they’re a B-plus, and they don’t have enough best days.
Voter 1: I voted for them, but reluctantly. When they were active, they were the third-best band out of Detroit. Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels were better, and the Stooges were better. Bob Seger was better than them, too, but he didn’t really get good until the ’70s. Even on a musical level, Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes were better. But MC5 got a lot more hype because they were “revolutionaries” and whatnot. It’s a bunch of horseshit. Yeah, I’ve always been an MC5 skeptic. I’ve listened to the records a lot, and I’ve tried. MC5 has one good song — “Kick Out the Jams.” Everything on the Stooges’ Fun House smokes anything MC5 ever did. What I guess I’m saying is I voted for them because there was nobody else I could see voting for.
Voter 2: Unlike the Velvet Underground or the Stooges or New York Dolls, I don’t think they’re that good. Their major contribution is “Kick Out the Jams.” If you go back and listen to MC5’s records, they’re not a lot of fun. Jon Landau, who’s on the nomination committee, poorly produced their second record. I find MC5 to be artistically insubstantial compared to their more important contemporaries.
Voter 1: Another terrible band. They were Lower East Side denizens. They performed very close to The Village Voice offices and were therefore able to schmooze the first generation of rock critics enough to earn themselves a critical reputation that will never fucking die. I just don’t hear it. They were musically inept, and lyrically, there was barely anything there. They’re a rock band for people who think that rock should be a form of theater.
Voter 2: A great band but difficult to untangle. Were they great formal innovators? No. Were they great songwriters? Occasionally. Did they have a certain visual style that has been profoundly influential over the last 50 years? Inarguably. The records for the most part hold up. I’m in favor of their induction.
Voter 1: I didn’t vote for him. There’s a thumbnail’s difference between him and Dionne Warwick. Yes, he started out in a funk band. Commodores was an average funk band. They weren’t as good as the Ohio Players and certainly weren’t as good as Parliament or Earth, Wind & Fire. They were maybe as good as Slave. Then all of a sudden he didn’t want to be a singer in a funk band and wanted to be Johnny Mathis. When Lionel went to pop, he went all the way to pop. No, thank you.
Voter 2: Even if they nominated him as part of Commodores, which wouldn’t have been an unfair thing to do … his body of work — and you can’t argue with its popularity — feels relatively insubstantial. “All Night Long” is a great single, and I’d be happy to defend it. But I find the rest of his work to not hold up. The best argument to be made for Lionel Richie is that he sold a gazillion records in the ’80s.
Voter 1: Hip-hop is great, but hip-hop is not rock and roll. The Low End Theory is a fantastic album. Q-Tip is a very smart dude as well as a great lyricist and a great performer. I just don’t think they need to be in the Rock Hall. Hip-hop should have its own Hall of Fame or institution — it’s almost 50 years old now. Similar to Dionne and Dolly, A Tribe Called Quest has this inexplicable wave of respect because they released that Farewell album a few years ago. It wasn’t great, but people were so excited they came back that everyone decided to will it into being great. All of those accolades? It was old-man rap. You don’t really need that much old-man rap in your life. A lot of the critics who loved it were middle-aged dudes.
Voter 2: They’re part of that explosion of fascinating and innovative hip-hop acts that arrived in ’87 and ’88. Those types of acts are underinducted in the Hall of Fame. A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Gang Starr all deserve to be in. They’re still very listenable and a great album band. They’re not a singles-plus-filler band. Certainly a very worthy selection.